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In the fifth of 16 Repairman Jack novels, a strange Russian lady with a large white dog appears at Jack’s sickbed and tells him that he, and he alone, must stop a virus that the adversary of all mankind has unleashed to create war, hate, death, fear, pain, and destruction. Here is a snippet of their conversation:
“Stop virus before it spreads, or all you love will perish.” She turned and headed for the bedroom door. “I leave you now.”
Jack felt the temperature drop. No…more chills. He pulled the covers back over him.
“Lady, who are you?”
She and her big white dog stopped at the door and looked at him. “I am your mother.”
Nonplussed, Jack struggled for a reply. She was nothing like his mother. Finally he resorted to a simple statement of fact.
“My mother’s dead.”
“She was your birth mother,” she said. “I am your other mother.”
If that doesn’t qualify as creepy, the statute should be repealed. And this is only one-third of the way through a series of thrillers that get weirder and scarier with each installment. The Adversary bit suggests that this book also features a crossover with the same author’s six-book Adversary Cycle. Whether you call it the Adversary or the Otherness, or whatever you choose to call it, it’s a force from outside our reality whose intentions toward mankind are not good. Already in less than a year (Jack’s time), it has tried to break into the world four different ways: vicious demons, diabolical machines, rips in the fabric of the universe, and most recently a drug that heightens aggression. Now it’s found another way: turning an experimental cancer cure into a mutation that could end human life as we know it.
It isn’t unusual for Jack’s most serious cases to endanger the people he cares about the most. He’s gotten pretty well mauled himself, a few times. But his work gets harder than ever when a young journalist witnesses him saving a subway carful of passengers from a mass murderer. Not only does the publicity threaten to blow his cover—no disaster could be worse for a man whose lifestyle is based on flying below the government’s radar—but it also attracts the attention of a pair of professional bombers who have a grudge against Jack. And it’s just when his invisibility cloak is slipping that he gets a new fix-it job that hits closer to home than most. For his new client, referred to him by the mysterious lady with dog, is none other than Jack’s estranged sister Kate.
Kate has her own closet complete with skeletons. One of them is a lesbian lover whose personality suddenly changed after a life-saving cancer treatment. Kate worries that Jeanette has become involved in a cult. But it’s actually much worse than that. All the members of this supposed cult were subjects in the same clinical trial. Somehow their miracle cure has mutated into a virus that has replaced their individual identities with a single, shared mind. Driven by the survival instincts of a sentient virus, they are only a few mutations away from being ready to spread their Unity to an unsuspecting world. From a virus’s point of view, the result will be a paradise on earth. Other than that, it looks like the end of human civilization.
While Jack dodges the enquiring mind of his own personal Jimmy Olsen and the deathtraps set by a couple of pyrotechnic goons, he and Kate find themselves fighting an enemy that—thanks to Jeanette and her buddies—is now in their blood too. Kate feels herself gradually losing control over her own thoughts and actions. Jack becomes deathly ill, helpless and weak. And though the Russian lady assures him that he is the one who can stop the virus, it’s hard to figure how he can do this. People who can act in concert, sharing the same mind, can be amazingly dangerous enemies. They know Jack is a threat to them. They have proven willing and able to kill whoever stands in their way. And he knows that if he doesn’t stop them before the virus goes airborne, all will be lost.
Truly, fixing this is going to be a big job. It’s going to hurt Jack more than any case he has worked so far. But more importantly, it poses the big “Why me?” question in a way that he can no longer ignore. For the first time, Jack begins to realize that his repeated brushes with the Otherness are more than a case of serendipity. He learns that he has been recruited as a warrior to fight an Adversary he does not understand, and he has no choice in this. It’s not going to sit easy with a guy who values his own freedom (including the right to bear arms) as much as his own life. But he has eleven more novel-length adventures to learn to accept it. The next Repairman Jack book is The Haunted Air.